NFL Rules 101: Football Definitions and Rules


Welcome to your crash course in NFL jargon, where we decode the football lexicon faster than a rookie learns his playbook. Let’s break down the essentials, keeping it as simple as spotting a fan in a foam finger!

Section 1 – Approved Ruling (A.R.)

What’s in a Name?

  • Approved Ruling (A.R.): Think of it as the Supreme Court decision for football plays. It clarifies the rules with a written decision based on a hypothetical scenario, making sure everyone’s on the same page before the flags fly.
  • Official Ruling (O.R.): These are the pop quizzes of the NFL, interim rules that apply only for the season they’re introduced. They’re temporary but official, like your in-laws visiting for the holidays.
  • Technical Terms: These are the terms that have very specific meanings within the rules, dressed in bold for their first appearance like a debutante at a ball.

Section 2 – The Ball and Possession

Ball Status 101

  • Dead Ball: This is when the ball is as inactive as a lazy Sunday afternoon. It’s not in play and the game is paused, like during timeouts or between downs.
  • Ball Ready for Play: The game’s “On your mark, get set, go!” moment—when the referee sets the ball down or starts the play clock.
  • Live Ball: This is the ball at its liveliest—during the action, bouncing, being thrown, or kicked, right up until the play is called dead.

Ball Adventures

  • Loose Ball: A ball that’s like a hot potato, fumbled, kicked, or passed but not yet secured by a player.
  • Fumble: When a player drops the ball while doing anything but passing, kicking, or successful handing off. If they drop it but grab it right away, it’s like nothing happened—no fumble.
  • Muff: The clumsy cousin of the fumble, where a player attempts to grab the ball but botches it. If they send it flying forward in the process, it’s more than just a muff—it’s a foul!

Section 3 – Bat to Blocking

From Batting to Blocking

  • Bat: Think baseball, but with a football: intentionally hitting the ball with your hand or arm.
  • Blocking: The art of legally getting in the opponent’s way. It’s like being the big sibling who won’t let anyone near their baby brother (the ball carrier).

What Not to Do

  • Block in the Back: Hitting an opponent from behind, above the waist, unless they’re trying to get the ball or don’t see it coming.
  • Block Below the Waist: The initial contact must be above the waist, and sliding down to the legs is a no-go, unless the opponent initiates it.

Section 4 – The Game Zones

Goal Posts to Bench Areas

  • Goal Posts: The bright gold posts at each end, with the crossbar 10 feet high. If you’re aiming for a field goal, you want to kick it over this bar but between the uprights.
  • Players’ Benches: Where the strategy happens, and only one player can be beyond the marked coach’s area (usually keeping track of plays).

The Field

  • Field of Play: The main area between the goal lines where all the action happens. It’s like the stage of an opera, but for football.
  • End Zone: The scoring area between the goal line and the end line. Get the ball here while holding onto it, and you score points!

Tackling the Terminology: Scrimmage and More

Scrimmage and Its Cousins

  • Scrimmage Down: A down beginning with a snap (normal play start). It’s the standard operating procedure.
  • Free Kick Down: Starts with a free kick, a way to restart the game after certain stops in play, like after a safety.
  • Fair Catch Kick Down: A rare play that starts after a player makes a fair catch of a kick and opts to attempt a field goal.

In Play and Out of Play

Boundaries and Possessions

  • Inbounds and Out of Bounds: If the player or ball hits the boundary lines or beyond, they’re out of bounds. Otherwise, they’re inbounds, playing within the lines like coloring inside the lines in a coloring book.
  • Possession: Having control of the ball securely, whether caught or recovered on the ground. It’s like claiming the last slice of pizza—make sure you have it before you celebrate!

Section 10 – Down to the Nitty-Gritty

Important Game Plays and Penalties

  • Down: The unit of the game that begins when the ball is put into play and ends when the ball is declared dead.
  • Foul: An infraction of the rules, penalized in various ways depending on the foul type—loss of yardage, loss of down, or both.

Fair Play and Safety

  • Safety: Scoring play that results in two points when the opponent causes the ball to become dead in their own end zone, a bit like an own goal in soccer but with more padding.

Wrap-Up: The NFL Rulebook Decoded

This guide should serve as your cheat sheet to understanding the complexities of NFL rules. Whether the ball is live, dead, fumbled, or blocked, you’re now equipped to follow along without missing a beat—or a pass.

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